Thursday, January 14, 2016

Notes On A Surfing Holiday

"If I had to move away from the coast I would live in the desert," I hear myself opine while driving down long dusty avenues buffeted by verdant golfing greens and swaying palm trees. An empty statement, in retrospect. I technically live on the coast by dint of the fact that I live on an island, but that's just a technicality. In reality, I live in a city far away from the surf. I could probably live in the desert, a couple hours from a surf spot and surf more than I do now. The qualitative differences of living by a coast in a city and partaking of the coast in a desert is so stark as to call into question the whole definition of coastal. This reality hit me square between the eyes while visiting my mother in the desert for the first part of our holidays.

"Coffee people." That's the voice I hear inside her head when she thinks of us. "Oh, they're coffee people." My mother doesn't drink coffee. Or tea. She does drink nonfat decaf vanilla iced lattes, which I don't think anyone can refer to as coffee. Even non coffee people. That's more like vanilla flavored iced milk with a hint of bitter, once the slightly melted thing is delivered. And she sends us Starbucks gift cards for Christmas every year which makes me think she must really like those lattes quite a bit.

They call the day after Christmas "Boxing Day" in the Commonwealth. It is the day the Rich English give boxes full of the cruddy stuff they got for Christmas for which there isn't a return receipt to the Poor English. They give to them in boxes. Ergo Boxing Day. In Palm Desert the only place to get tea or coffee early in the morning on Boxing Day is Starbucks. My mother was ecstatic for her wishy vanilla milk winking-at-coffee drink.

"Is it crowded?" she asks. This is a real stumper for me. How crowded can a Starbucks get in Palm Desert at 7 AM on Boxing Day? I can't imagine it gets crowded on any day. But metrics are different in the desert. You can drive for a few miles only seeing a few other cars. Maybe driving a mile and seeing ten cars is "traffic" here. So I answer "Yes it was packed." This satisfies her.

Basketball is the most boring game. I didn't used to feel this way. I used to love basketball. I played with avid consistency. But something happened... they moved the SuperSonics out of Seattle, I stopped watching in protest, and now, when I try to go back, I just don't have the love anymore. It's just flat boring. So how is it that the best parts of the Amy Schumer vehicle "Trainwreck" are the ones with LeBron in them? Not that Amy Schumer isn't funny. She's genuinely funny. Funnier than most. But something about LeBron. He was even funnier.

In Hawaii there seems to be one team: the Seattle Seahawks. There are so many Seahawks jerseys and t-shirts it takes me by surprise. It is equally a surprising bit of comfort. I think to myself "Hey! If I get into a little trouble, I'll just bring up that I once served Steve Largent dinner and he complimented me on keeping his water glass filled!"

Waikiki is a great place to shoot guns. If you're looking for a gun holiday, head to Waikiki, soak up some rays, peruse the boutiques, drink some mai tais and squeeze off a few rounds in one of the numerous indoor firing ranges just steps from the the beach.

The drive through the middle of Oahu to the North Shore from Honolulu is surprisingly short. Forty five minutes about. We start by visiting a little coffee shop in the Ward part of town. A Vietnamese man is behind the counter, next to his Vietnamese cousin in the kitchen. He asks us if we're tourists. He has been on the island for 15 years, by way of Chicago. I ask him why Chicago, he says "work!" The Vietnamese Coffee he makes is very very good. I order iced tea, but I openly covet my wife's Vietnamese Coffee.

Is there something magical about the North Shore? Yes. Seven Mile Miracle? Sure. I've always been intimidated by the idea of surfing on the North Shore. When I finally see it face to face, it seems entirely doable. There seems to be plenty of places to paddle out and not get in the way and get a few messy rides. It is characteristically (characteristically of all fĂȘted but truly hallowed places) modest when first experienced. "This is it? This stretch of two lane road and that bit of rock and sand?" But this is expected and I don't let the mildness of an hour spent squinting my eyes fool me. All of Hawaii has an abnormal vibe. The North Shore feels particularly charismatic.

Waimea Bay is truly beautiful.

We stop at the Kuhuku Superette per instruction. I order a plastic container full of poke. A Poke Bowl. We eat it outside Tita's walk-up under the shade of a bus stop. All four of us: woman and man and two children taking turns slurping down the alternately chewy and satin fish. We gobble at the onions and rice. Carnivorous familial bliss.

Along the way I see someone I follow on Instagram and he stops by the side of the road and we chat for a moment. It is as awkward as you might think, stopping to chat on the side of the road with someone you only know vaguely from social media. But he is generous, offering me a board to paddle out and a t-shirt souvenir. My wife rolls her eyes at me, my older son is shy, younger son squirms in the sun.

As I said, I stay no more than an hour on this liminal holy land. The humility of a husband on unexpected holiday with children in tow. Another piece of evidence in the case against my surfing bone-fides, a legal matter forever being wrangled in an esoteric court.

We play in the sand near the President of the United States. He does not throw me a shaka. I do not catch him bodysurfing. Instead, in town, I buy new flowery swim trunks that fit me snuggly. My wife says they make me look less fat than the baggy ones I had been sporting. I wonder aloud if I wore speedos if I wouldn't look slimmer still. She says she wouldn't go to the beach with me if I did that. We order another Poke Bowl from another grocery. The fish is even more slippery and we gobble with even more enthusiasm.

There is a moment during my time on Oahu when I nearly break down. It is our last day and I want to surf. There is, and there isn't, enough time. I am ready to mutiny and I nearly catapult into the sort of fit reserved for my sons. Just as I shudder into apoplexy, my age takes hold and I remember my single New Year's resolution, a one-word mantra : elegance. I accept my fate.

In fact I was able to surf a few times on this little accidental family vacation. Ala Moana all, Rockpiles and Bowls and In Betweens. Maybe Kaiser's. The spots seem to mush together in my haole mind. There is an odd south island swell happening our first two days. I luck into four foot fun. Hawaiian waves do have the push.

Just paddling out into the water in Hawaii makes you feel like a champion surfer. It doesn't matter if it's three foot (Hawaiian) semi-mush. I mean, it didn't feel like mush to me, the wave jacking up for a fun moment then lining up for a mini stand up wall before closing out into the next reef. But to a Hawaiian surfer it was probably junk and I felt like a champ.

My son paddles out for a couple sessions. He does not let me help him. He paddles well and knows what he's doing. He still lacks the voracious appetite for surfing. Even after all we've been through, after all he's seen. He still decides whether he will paddle out. The calm, safe confines of the hotel pool still hold strong appeal. I wonder what surfing will become for him. I wonder if he will do to me what I did to my father with skiing. I can see it. But my father had three children and one of them still skis, perhaps saving for me a bit of acceptance in the old man's heart. Perhaps I should be more grateful to that brother. And to tell the truth, I adore my first son so intensely, I worry he can do no wrong in my eyes. Please do not let him know, who needs that headache?

On my last wave of my last session I lose my board and swim to retrieve it. I forget how shallow the reef is and my hand brushes an urchin leaving me with spiny black needles sticking out of my left middle finger. When I return my board to the shop, a real live son of a real Waikiki beach boy is hanging around the shop unnerving the demure Japanese expat shopgirl standing uneasily behind the counter. He is talking story to her and she is nodding her head and approving nervously. He has clear light eyes and the sharp features of waterman. I ask him about my urchin pins and he says "Pee on it! Something about your pee drives the urchin out. If you don't they live in there. They're living and will grow inside you." The intensity of his gaze makes me stick around for a while to talk to him about his fathers and grandfathers. He tells me about earning his first board by riding it in without falling off on his first try. Eventually, his intensity drives me away.

I pee on my finger religiously. Still.

We buy macadamia nuts. We drink POG. We hold our breath under water. We do not get sunburnt. I try the hotel's various versions of mai tais but end up preferring the local beer. Our last night, an asian man gets so drunk in the room next door, a friend has to come and get him bleating out in that curious asian-man-drunk-tenor. I've only heard that sound in the movies. But now I've heard it in real life. It is at turns fascinating, comical and deeply annoying. That last turn being the thing one is left holding.

In Carlsbad, I pull out a real board. By real, I mean a hard one, not a softtop. But I also pull out a softtop. I strap both to the top of the Nissan Pea economical rental car and surf Cardiff Reef and Swami's. On the softtop. I don't know if I can go back to a real board. My degenerated ankle is so grateful for the squish. My degenerated ego is so grateful for the reduced expectations. The waves are small, clean. The water is so clear I feel like I'm back on Waikiki. Where the water was actually not so clear. But such is the magical mnemonic spell Hawaii must conjure.

I have a hard time watching movies on plane rides. It feels better to read. But every time I scan the movie list on the seat-back video station for a Japanese movie about a single lady living a solitary, nearly monastic life and the goodness she spreads around her while she struggles with a hidden inner torment. This is a real genre in Japanese filmmaking I've noticed and if I'm lucky, I happen upon one. In the last six months I've watched two films about older single ladies with coffee roasters perched on cliffs overlooking the sea and a film about a single lady who makes beautiful dresses but refuse to mass produce them despite the attentions of a young handsome suitor who works for a department store. These types of films hold my attention just fine.

1 comment:

kelvin freely said...

this is superb. well done!